US supermarket giant Walmart is rolling out robots across more of its stores
American grocer Walmart has begun rolling out a robot workforce across 50 of it’s US stores. No, this isn’t a “robots are stealing our jobs” situation just yet, instead it’s a way to help free up worker time and let them get on with actually helping customers instead of simply faffing around with store logistics.
When you’re a business as big as Walmart, which has over 11,700 locations worldwide and 2.3 million employees worldwide (including its UK Asda business), making the most of employee time is crucial. That’s why Walmart is going hard on ensuring its robotic workers really do add value to the workplace.
At six feet tall, these robots wander the aisles of Walmart stores scanning shelves to check for errors. They’ll then alert store workers to incorrect prices, out of stock items, wrong or mislabeled items and products put back in the wrong place by customers. Due to their ability to scan shelves at a faster rate than humans, it’s actually far more efficient to have these robots roaming the halls looking for errors than waste Walmart employee’s time when they could be helping customers.
Speaking to Business Insider, Walmart’s vice president of innovation, John Crecelius explained that the company’s partnership with Bossa Nova Robotics wasn’t intended as a means of boosting store efficiencies.
“This has largely been about how we improve our performance and improve our service to our customers,” he said. “[Store employees] are usually at the forefront of helping us identify things that improve our business that we hadn’t thought of.”
One of these new ideas was workplace efficiency that meant employees would rush to restock the items that had sold out first, when a new delivery came in, instead of simply replenishing shelves as per usual.
Currently, the robots don’t run continuously throughout the day. Walmart is still working out the ideal cycle but, for now, it’s settled upon a run in the morning, one at midday and once in the evening too. Running a cycle while customers in store also don’t appear to be a problem with many customers simply showing curiosity in the devices before continuing with their shopping.
Crecelius also believes that store employees have taken to the robots well too. He says that some see the robot as a member of the team, even giving it a name and name tag to wear.
“That’s usually a good sign,” Crecelius said. “It usually happens when they feel like something is helping them or making a meaningful difference.”
Walmart hasn’t spoken further about expansion plans around its robotic fleet. So far only four states make use of them and, even then, they’re in but a fraction of Walmart’s total stores. There’s no word of Walmart wanting to try out the technology in the UK either, so it may be quite a while before you see one wondering the halls of Asda looking for mislabeled Pot Noodles.